Changing the Way You Think

I started this blog when my kids were 6 and 8, and reading was shared and exciting and a doorway into my own past life. I found books I'd known and they were changed, I found books I hadn't known were there. It was weird and fun, which is how I like it.

Now they are 13 (gasp!) and 15 (double gasp!) and their reading has, of course, shifted, in ways I would never have predicted. Diane has dived deep into the worlds of fantasy and darkness and humor, where she is swimming in waters beyond anything I'd ever reached, looking for something that amazing mind of hers can grab onto.

While Chestnut has been reading—grown up books (triple gasp!). As in: she takes the book away from me after I'm done, or (in extreme cases) while I am reading it. Which is how she ended up coming upon Kate Atkinson, and after a while, Life After Life.

This is not a book that's easy to read. I don't mean in terms of reading level but more in terms of "Oh my god harsh pseudo-reality." But Chestnut is interested in a bunch of harsh books these days, and she's really loved other Kate Atkinson she's read (mostly the detective stories), so it seemed like it made sense.

Chestnut read it. And read it. And read it. And then she put it down. "It's upsetting," she said.

"So put it away and don't read anymore," I said.

She considered this. And I was glad, because it IS upsetting, and you don't have to deal with the harsh realities of life (death, rape, abuse, loneliness) in fiction, especially when you're a kid. There's enough of it all around you. So she put it down—and then she picked it up again a few days later.

Why? "Because it changes the way I think," she said. "Sometimes I start to think in the school way, and I don't like it. I have to read things like this so it makes me go back to thinking in the other way." But it's upsetting? "The upsetting part is how it can change the way I think."

I found this both confusing and moving (that is how I feel so often being a parent actually). And also, I think, true in some way that I am not able to name. Can you name it? Or should I just trust it?

2 thoughts on “Changing the Way You Think

  1. I don’t think I can name it. But I totally believe it. I think that books that are upsetting DO make you think differently, you HAVE to because they are a new experience for you, albeit not reality. When you can be with a character experiencing upsetting things, EMPATHY kicks in. Empathy is not the goal of school assignments (I make up these assignments…so…). I hope that empathy is along for the ride a lot of the time, but the assignments are more analytical, at least in my college class. Also, you get to have another point of view. I am not black, but when I read Beloved (which was VERY upsetting) I got to see the world through a slave’s perspective. I didn’t like it. It was scary. And this is one book that haunts me and I often wish I didn’t read it. But, I am glad I did. So, I can’t name it, obviously, but I totally GET IT. What a brilliant kid you have!

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  2. Yes. I think her experience was profound, but that she was able to articulate it even more amazing! I, too, don’t think I can “name it” — although it made me think about how utterly depressed I am when I read “bad” literature, or when I read something I “have to” (like when in school) and can’t relax or dissolve into it. Maybe the upsetting feeling is EXACTLY what is happening — not so much “upsetting” as things turned topsy-turvy and changed, irrevocably.

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